All Those ‘Dam Bikes!
The Dutch are famous for their bikes. Along with the canals, windmills, and cheese, bikes are also considered to be stereotypically “Dutch”. And it’s fantastic! We saw so many people on bikes … it’s obviously an integral part of both society and their transportation system.
The Dutch are also well-known for their ingenuity, and a general laxness about “health and safety”, as the Brits say. We saw quite a few bikes with little kid seats attached to the rear, and even a few with two kid seats: one in back and one perched on the handlebars. Note that most of these seats were not the all-surrounding safety seat you would see in the US, and I never saw a single helmet the entire trip. I doubt whether these bikes would be popular (or even legal?) in the States, but here they are wildly popular.
I should note that we saw a good number of regular bikes with the luggage rack on the back, with a young child (5 or 6 years old) just perched there and hanging on! It’s quite a popular (if uncomfortable) way to get around.
Then there are these things. I can only describe them as bikes with giant buckets in the front. You plop a couple of kids in the bucket, and off you go. Some people also put bags or groceries in there, packed around the child! It’s a convenient way to get your goods around, even if it’s not that sexy. We did manage to snap a picture of this guy with his kids.
One Dutch friend told us that Holland has more bicycles than people, which is pretty amazing. Alex was skeptical, until we arrived in Holland and discovered that every single bike in the country is parked at Amsterdam Centraal Station.
Biking is definitely the primary mode of transport. I even saw a woman biking to work in 4 inch stiletto heels! I’m going to suggest it as a new Olympic sport.
Our canal boat guide told us that they pull 20,000 bikes every month out of the Amsterdam canals, but that figure seems a little too high to be believeable. Then again, maybe not!
At some of the out-lying train stations, there are big underground bike lots, with moving walks to get in and out. It’s free for the first 24 hours, and then costs .50 cents per day.
The traffic situation is fairly complicated in Amsterdam, because you have cars, bikes, trams, buses, and pedestrians all trying to get through. But the Dutch are very clever, and have given bikes their own separate lanes in almost every situation. Bikes always have the right of way, and bikes and pedestrians have separate lights at intersections. I think it works well because everyone tends to obey the laws. In NYC, bikers zip through the traffic lights when they are red, because they say those lights are for cars and don’t apply. But in Holland, there are separate lights for bikes, and everyone stops if it is red.
Yes, it is very common for tourists to step out into the bike lane and almost get creamed. It even happened to me once or twice. But I think if you live with bikes at the forefront of your transit options, then you get used to the complicated traffic patterns. That being said, we did notice that there is a definite car culture when you get out of central Amsterdam.
I love the fact that biking is such a central part of Dutch culture. It’s unique, effective, healthy, and environmentally friendly. But even more important, it’s fun! There is definitely a movement to increase biking access in many big cities (London just implemented the Boris Bike plan, but we’ll post about that later!); I think most cities would do well to look at the Dutch for a sound model.